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Westmont students take on Rachel’s Challenge

WESTMONT – Westmont schools are taking a stance against bullying by implementing a program with a positive twist.

The Climate Committee of Westmont Community Unit School District 201 brought Rachel’s Challenge – a program created in honor of Rachel Joy Scott who was killed in the 1999 Columbine shootings – to district schools Nov. 19.

“This is just a young lady who had a very powerful and simple message,” said John Jonak, principal of Westmont Junior High. “We just need to be decent to one another.”

Rachel’s Challenge is a series of empowering programs that are based around the writings and life of 17-year-old Rachel Joy Scott. She was the first student killed in the Columbine shootings, according to the program’s website.

Students were given a presentation as part of the program on Nov. 19 that discussed Scott’s life, ethics and goals, including her theory that if one person went out of the way to be compassionate, it would result in a chain reaction.

Students also discussed steps to take to make new students feel welcome and have a sense of belonging.

The Climate Committee, composed of teachers, staff, administrators and parents, had been discussing how to tackle bullying in a positive way for some time, according to Jonak, a committee member. He said the idea to begin working with Rachel’s Challenge started a few months ago.

“It was a long process and something we’ve worked hard on but we’re really excited,” Jonak said. “We think it’s an amazing challenge.” 

Jonak said teachers were trained during an institute day with a three-hour long presentation prior to the program presentation last week.

“It’s not just a one and done deal,” Jonak said. “It’s more about continuing with the challenge and come up with different steps [for students].”

Along with the presentation, Westmont High School and Westmont Junior High School students will form a group called Friends of Rachel. The group will be open enrollment for any student who wants to join and will take an active role in helping students become more caring and respectful.

“You can always be proactive and there’s always room for improvement,” Westmont High School Assistant Principal Kevin Weck said.

Weck said the high school is “pumped” about the program.

“It’s a positive culture and takes a way from the negative idea of bullying,” Weck said. “It has a twist on it and it doesn’t just have to stop when the school bell rings – it could be a life lesson.”

After introducing the challenge to the students during the school day, the district hosted the presentation Nov. 19 for the entire community. Jonak said about 100 community members attended.

Now, while the schools are beginning their journey with Rachel’s Challenge, Jonak said the next step is bringing the message to the entire Westmont community.

“I [want to] challenge the community,” Jonak said. “It’s not just about the kids and teachers but i challenge the community to accept Rachel’s Challenge as well.”

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